(edited article in the Bass Coast Post*)
The selection of a credible independent candidate has added an element of uncertainty to the federal election for voters in the very safe Liberal seat of Monash. Voices for Monash, a citizen-led community group, has selected Deb Leonard, a Phillip Island small business owner and lawyer, as their candidate. Ms Leonard will be looking to unsettle veteran Liberal MP Russell Broadbent who has held the seat for 23 of the past 32 years.
Aged 71, Mr Broadbent surprised many when he announced he wanted another term despite never attaining high or even middling office. His anti-vax stance could hurt him in an electorate that is 95 per cent vaccinated. Since announcing last October that he was uncomfortable with aspects of Australia’s vaccination program, and suspicious of the vaccines themselves, he has kept a low profile. He has not responded to questions on his Facebook page about whether he has been vaccinated.
It’s not the first time Mr Broadbent has marched to a different beat. As his party went hard on “boat people”, he crossed the floor several times in support of a more humane refugee policy. He also voted against marriage equality in 2019 despite more than 70 per cent of Monash electors voting yes in the plebiscite. Neither stance hurt him at the 2019 election, with daylight between him and the ALP contender Jessica O’Donnell. Mr Broadbent recorded 46.3 per cent of the primary vote, almost enough to take it on his own, and ended up with 57.4 per cent of the two-party preferred vote. Ms O’Donnell, a former Baw Baw Shire councillor, has returned for another go but it seems unlikely an ALP candidate can win such a safe Liberal seat.
The Monash electorate (formerly McMillan) consists of Bass Coast, Baw Baw and South Gippsland shires, Moe-Newborough in the City of Latrobe, and very small parts of Cardinia and Yarra Ranges Shires. It has traditionally been a very safe Liberal seat. Koo Wee Rup and Lang Lang (both of which recorded a strong Liberal vote in 2019) were removed from electorate in last year’s redistribution, making the seat slightly more marginal.
However, the huge gap between the two major parties gives an independent with a profile and a good campaign a chance to slip through. Disaffected Liberal and ALP voters may feel comfortable enough to vote for an independent. If Ms Leonard gets ahead of the Greens and the other minor parties, she would probably pick up most of the preferences from the Greens…It gives her an outside chance of knocking off the ALP, which scored just 29.5 per cent of the primary vote in 2019. And if she does that, she would probably win the election. The Greens have selected Mat Morgan, a Foster student, musician and climate activist who stood for South Gippsland Shire Council at last year’s election.